Suitable Seating for Employees
On April 4, 2016, the California Supreme Court issued its decision in Kilby v. CVS Pharmacy/Henderson v. JPMorgan Chase, which examined the state's requirement for providing suitable seating to employees.
Under California law, employers are required to provide suitable seats to their employees when the “nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats.” Specifically, the language states: “All working employees shall be provided with suitable seats when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats.” There has been no interpretation as to what seats are “suitable,” who determines the “nature of the work,” or under what circumstances the “nature of the work” “reasonably permits” suitable seats.
The Ninth Circuit asked the California Supreme Court to weigh-in and interpret this language after its application arose in two federal appeals involving separate industries. In the underlying federal appeals cases, clerks/cashiers at CVS and tellers at a bank alleged that their employers failed to provide them with adequate seating.
Several of these cases are pending before the Ninth Circuit, which sought guidance on the meaning of the suitable seating law from the California Supreme Court. The Court agreed to provide guidance on three questions: (1) Does the phrase “nature of work” refer to discrete tasks or the entire range of an employee's duties? (2) What factors should courts consider when determining whether the nature of work “reasonably permits” the use of a seat? (3) Does the employer or employee have the burden of proving whether or not a suitable seat is available?
The California Supreme Court's Interpretation
In clarifying the state's standards, the state's highest court validated a reasonable interpretation of the requirement that permits employers to use their business judgment (including customer service considerations) and the physical layout of workspaces when determining whether seating is required.
The Court issued the following interpretation of the “suitable seating” regulation:
- “The “nature of the work” refers to an employee‟s tasks performed at a given location for which a right to a suitable seat is claimed, rather than a “holistic” consideration of the entire range of an employee‟s duties anywhere on the jobsite during a complete shift. If the tasks being performed at a given location reasonably permit sitting, and provision of a seat would not interfere with performance of any other tasks that may require standing, a seat is called for.
- Whether the nature of the work reasonably permits sitting is a question to be determined objectively based on the totality of the circumstances. An employer‟s business judgment and the physical layout of the workplace are relevant but not dispositive factors. The inquiry focuses on the nature of the work, not an individual employee‟s characteristics.
- The nature of the work aside, if an employer argues there is no suitable seat available, the burden is on the employer to prove unavailability.”
California Employment Law
With this recent interpretation in mind, California employers must give careful consideration to whether their employees can perform any of their tasks while sitting. Employers face significant penalties should they fail to provide seats when the nature of the work would reasonably permit their use.
The experienced California employment lawyers at Kingsley & Kingsley can quickly answer your questions about seating requirements or any of California's employment laws. To discuss these laws, or a potential claim on your behalf, feel free to call us toll-free at (888) 500-8469 or click here to contact us via email.